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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:15 pm

The Foreign Service and America’s Diversity

Yesterday, Condoleezza Rice delivered a keynote speech at the annual conference of something called the White House Initiative on National Historically Black Colleges and Universities.   Here’s what she had to say.

I have lamented that I can go into a meeting at the Department of State — and as a matter fact I can go into a whole day of meetings at the Department of State — and actually rarely see somebody who looks like me. And that is just not acceptable. . . . Because when I go around the world I want to see black Americans involved in the promotion and development of our foreign policy. I want to see a Foreign Service that looks as if black Americans are part of this great country.

She’s right.  Off the top of my head, I can think of three African-American foreign service officers I’ve dealt with over the years.  That’s ridiculous.

I could offer a long explanation of why diversity in the foreign service is important, but Life after Jerusalem already has done a better job than I could do:

As an American Indian, I am painfully aware that there are only 35 American Indians in all of the Department of State. So when Secretary Rice says she can go through a whole day and see few people who look like her, I get it. I see none. And I don’t believe, and I doubt she does, that the reason for this is that “white administrators refuse to hire them.” I do think there are plenty of qualified African Americans and American Indians out there who just don’t know that the State Department is an option. I certainly didn’t, and never even considered it until my partner joined.

What I think she is saying, and I agree, is that we need to make a conscious effort to reach out to other communities. No one is saying to hire blacks or Indians for their color. But maybe we could recruit a little better at traditionally black or Indian universities to let them know of the opportunities at State. Because the Foreign Service SHOULD look like America. The Foreign Service has been accused of being “pale, male and Yale.” We should send men and women of all hues, religions, sexual orientations, etc., abroad to represent us because that is what America is.

I would only add that by looking more like America, a more diverse foreign service also would look more like the world.  Many folks around the world have no idea that the United States is anything other than white and black.

To cite one example, one of the things that made Harold Hongju Koh such an effective Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor is that other governments had a very hard time suggesting to him that the United States was racist. The Chinese, in particular, just hated the fact that they had to go toe-to-toe with an Asian American.

Like LAJ, I’m not suggesting that we should appoint people just because they are a certain gender, skin color, or sexual orientation.  Harold was A/S because he was the single most effective human rights advocate ever to hold the job, not because he happened not to be white.  By celebrating all that is American, we also demonstrate to the world much that is great about America.

Hat tip:  Life after Jerusalem

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9 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:15 pm

Compare and Contrast: Libya

Here’s what the State Department’s most recent human rights report has to say about Libya:

The Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is an authoritarian regime with a population of approximately six million, ruled by Colonel Mu’ammar al‑Qadhafi since 1969. . . .Qadhafi and his inner circle monopolized political power. . . . The government’s human rights record remained poor. Citizens did not have the right to change their government. Reported torture, arbitrary arrest, and incommunicado detention remained problems. The government restricted civil liberties and freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. The government did not fully protect the rights of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. Other problems included poor prison conditions; impunity for government officials; lengthy political detention; denial of fair public trial; infringement of privacy rights; restrictions of freedom of religion; corruption and lack of transparency; societal discrimination against women, ethnic minorities, and foreign workers; trafficking in persons; and restriction of labor rights.

Now here’s what our favorite government blog, Dippynote said after The Condi finished her Weekend at Moammar’s:

Libya’s journey to rejoin the community of nations came after a long process of reengagement. Its historic 2003 decisions to voluntarily rid itself of its WMD program and renounce terrorism created the foundation from which Libya has today become a leader in Africa and a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. . . .Today, Libya is a vital partner in the fight against terrorism, helping to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq. It works closely with its neighbors to combat the growth of terrorism in the Sahara and Trans-Sahel regions.

Libya is also a leader on the African continent. It maintains a humanitarian corridor that provides much needed supplies to the people of Darfur. Working with the African Union Contact Group, it is helping to mediate the conflicts in Chad and Sudan. Additionally, Libya provides development assistance to other African countries. . . .

The U.S. and Libya have shared interests, but have also differed at times on some key policy points and use of diplomatic tools. Naturally, we would prefer to have their support on some of these issues, but it is noteworthy that Libya — which serves as a model to others — voted in favor of placing additional sanctions against Iran for its non-compliance with international efforts to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.  Libya has come a long way in its transformation from an isolated pariah to renewed membership in the international community.

One of these things is not like the other.

By the way, this is the sixth consecutive Dippynote post on Libya.  That’s more than the total number of posts on Iraq (five) since the beginning of April — and equal to the number of posts on Afghanistan (six) since Dipnote began.  And they wonder why nobody takes them seriously?

Here’s the best part:  it’s very likely that the two statements above were written by the same person — Amanda Johnson, a Libya Desk Officer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA).  Ms. Johnson is identified as the author of the Dippynote piece, and since there was no diplomatic presence in Tripoli at the time of the last human rights report, it probably would have fallen to Ms. Johnson to prepare the first draft of that report.

This is what drives me bananas about the State Department. I have no beef with Ms. Johnson, who in all likelihood is a fine foreign service officer.  But given her age (she says in the Dipnote piece that she was born in 1977), she is in all likelihood a fairly junior one.  And junior foreign service officers — those without tenure — might as well be party apparatchiks for all the influence they have on the policymaking process:  they either toe the party line or find themselves out of a job.

In Ms. Johnson’s case, that means writing something highly critical of Condi’s creepy stalker boyfriend wannabe, and then, eight months later, being told to write something highly complementary.  It’s no wonder that foreign service officers get cynical about political appointees — and about the U.S. government’s commitment to human rights.

So which one is right?  Let me offer you the following hint:  the happier the tone, the bigger the lie.

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9 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

Diplospeak Translator: The Condi and The Sarahnator

Over the weekend, CNN asked Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State, scratch golfer, and yet-to-be-indicted war criminal, whether she thought Sarah Palin had the experience to be Vice President.  Watch:

Time for the Diplospeak Translatorâ„¢!

QUESTION:  [Do you think Governor Palin has the experience to be Vice President?]

THE CONDI:  I thought that Sarah Palin gave a terrific speech, and not to get into the politics of it.  She’s a governor of a state here in the United States and she spoke very well.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  Nope. Not even close.  Even I can’t lie that convincingly, and I’m the freaking liar-in-chief.

QUESTION:  Does she have the kind of experience to handle the things you need to handle?

THE CONDI:  These are decisions that Senator McCain has made.  I have great confidence in him.  I’m not going to get involved in this political campaign. As the Secretary of State, I don’t do that.  But I thought her speech was wonderful.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  Are you kidding me?  I have more experience in my big toe than she has.  Nope, nada, nyet. Give me a minute and I’ll come up with “no” in ten other languages, none of which Sarah Palin has freaking even heard of.

QUESTION:  But a lot of Republicans are also saying that she just lacks the experience.  I mean you can dispatch Vice President Cheney to deal with Ukraine and Georgia but Sarah Palin just won’t be able to handle it.

THE CONDI:  There are different kinds of experiences in life that help one to deal with matters of foreign policy.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  I can’t believe that McCain has made He Whose Name Must Not Be Uttered look good in comparison.  And I can’t believe that most people think that dealing with the PTA is the same as going face-to-face with Gadhafi, Hu Jintao, or Putin.

At least we now know why The Condi got sent to Libya in the middle of the Republican National Convention.

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9 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Russia-Georgia: The Other Shoe Drops

This isn’t good:

Statement by Secretary Condoleezza Rice

Washington, DC

September 8, 2008

The President intends to notify Congress that he has today rescinded his prior determination regarding the U.S.-Russia Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation (the so-called ‘123’ Agreement). As a result, there is no basis for further consideration of the Agreement under the Atomic Energy Act at this time.

The U.S. nonproliferation goals contained in the proposed Agreement remain valid: to provide a sound basis for U.S.-Russian civil nuclear cooperation, create commercial opportunities, and enhance cooperation with Russia on important global nonproliferation issues.

We make this decision with regret. Unfortunately, given the current environment, the time is not right for this agreement.

We will reevaluate the situation at a later date as we follow developments closely.

For those not familiar with 123 agreements, they are named after Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which requires that the U.S. government negotiate and sign an agreement with a given country before commerce in nuclear materials can be established.

Although 123 agreements can be controversial in and of themselves (as is the case with the U.S.-India pact), they also offer a way to help promote nonproliferation and the reduction of nuclear stockpiles.

The era of U.S.-Russian cooperation on nukes may have just come to an end.

Hope Saakashvili is feeling more secure now — because something tells me that a few of those missiles are now pointed his way.

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8 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Caption Contest: Hot for Condi — The Meeting

More from globalization’s newest fun couple:

What the hell is The Great Gaddsby holding in hand?

You can find the backstory here.

I think it’s time for a caption contest.

Photo:  Dipnote

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6 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:45 am

While You Were Away: Hot for Condi

You may have missed it, what with Sarahpalooza and everything, but Dick Cheney wasn’t the only Bush Administration official exiled sent overseas during the Republican National Convention.

For some reason, Condoleezza Rice, perhaps second only to the Vice President on the list of people George Bush actually listens to, was sent to Libya to meet with raving nutjob new ally Moammar Gadhafi (or however the hell he’s spelling it this week).

Libya was never major-league caliber evil, but they did make it to the high minors a couple of times, particularly during the Reagan Administration.  There are some who still think they have the stuff to be Axis-caliber, but the Bushies have decided to make nice.

Not everyone — particularly the families of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 — shares that sentiment, so apparently the Administration thought that sending The Condi to Tripoli in the middle of the Republican National Convention might mean that most Americans would be too distracted by McCainia to realize she was meeting with the Gadster (or is it Qaddster?  Khadster? GQKaaadster?  I can never keep it straight):

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi - once reviled as a “mad dog” by a U.S. president - on Friday on a historic visit that she said proved that Washington had no permanent enemies.

Rice’s trip, the first by a U.S. secretary of state to the North African country in 55 years, is intended to end decades of enmity, five years after Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction program.

“I think we are off to a good start. It is only a start but after many, many years, I think it is a very good thing that the United States and Libya are establishing a way forward,” Rice told a news conference after talks with Gaddafi at a compound bombed by U.S. warplanes in 1986.

For a couple of years now, the Bush Administration has bragged about how it forced the Libyans to give up its nucular nuclear ambitions and return to the community of nations.  But what we didn’t know was that Gadhafi had a secret motive for improving U.S.-Libyan relations:  love.

From a 2007 Al-Jazeera interview with the Lucky Gadhafella himself:

Qadhafi:  I support my darling black African woman. I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders. She beckons to the Arab foreign ministers, and they come to her, either in groups or individually.

Interviewer:  You are referring to the American secretary of state, right?

Qadhafi: Yes, Leezza, Leezza, Leezza… I love her very much. I admire her, and I’m proud of her, because she’s a black woman of African origin. I congratulate her on reaching this global status. When she beckons to the heads of the Arab security agencies, they come running. She’s the secretary of state, yet she heads the Arab security agencies.

I think we’ve just established a new gold standard in the category of creepy stalker boyfriend wannabes.

Dipnote, the State Department’s little blog that could (if it only had the proper clearances!), either didn’t see this little tidbit or has a much more twisted sense of humor than I thought.  This is the headline to their story about The Condi’s visit:

What Lessons Can Be Learned from the U.S.-Libyan Relationship?

Nudge nudge, wink wink.  Say no more!

But what do you do with a problem like Moammar?  I have a suggestion.  The Condi should invite him to play a round of golf.  And now that Dubya has set a timetable for withdrawal of our troops in an aspirational horizon for success in Iraq, he could give up giving up golf and join them.  Add Dick Cheney and you have a war criminal foursome!  Be careful:  if you don’t let them play through, you might be taking lessons from the golf pro at Guantanamo Country Club.

Better yet, Moammar could tour with Van Halen.  They need a new lead singer (again), and “Hot for Condi” has a nice ring to it.

Hat tip:  Somewhere in Africa

Photos:  Wikipedia

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5 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:04 pm

While You Were Away: Russia-Georgia

Map of South Ossetia

The last two weeks have been nuts, what with the Clinton and Obama speeches, Hurricane Sarah, and all other things political.  And things are unlikely to slow down anytime soon, given the fact that the election is only sixty days away.

While Americans focused on the conventions (and Hurricane Gustav), world events didn’t just grind to a halt.  Over the past two weeks, there have been a number of important developments that are not only important in their own right but also may have a significant impact on the next President’s ability to govern.

Over the next few days, I’m going to try to highlight someJ of them.  Let’s start with Russia-Georgia.

In the past two weeks, the Russia-Georgia conflict has increasingly turned into a proxy (cold) war between the United States and the Russian Federation.  Russian President Medvedev has demonstrated a particular affection for Bushian bluster, making grandiose nationalistic statements about reestablishing a Russian sphere of influence that were meant as much for internal consumption as for global politics.  Meanwhile, the Bush Administration has taken several steps to bind the United States even more closely to the fate of Georgia — including a pledge of more than $1 billion in new (non-military) foreign assistance and a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney.

John McCain’s protestations notwithstanding, most Americans still do not understand what is going on or why the conflict is relevant to their lives.

For all the jokes about Cheney being sent out of the country during the Convention, the reality is that his trip was deadly serious, designed to show the Russians that the United States would not be cowed in the face of its aggression.  But it also showed Cheney’s unbelievably blinkered view of the world:  in the end, the reason the U.S. is backing Georgia is because of the latter’s decision to send troops to Iraq.

The Administration’s actions are going to make it much harder for the next President to pursue a more rational, interests-based policy while at the same time defending Georgian sovereignty.  Of course, if McCain is President, that will not be a problem.

The bottom line:  this has become a game of low-intensity chicken, with both sides acting like 12-year-old boys.  And neither side really cares to behave like adults.  Georgia, which is largely (though not entirely) the victim here, is stuck in the middle, with little hope of serious support from the West or complete withdrawal of Russian forces.  The real fear is that some further incident will cause one side or the other to ratchet up the rhetoric in a way that we’re suddenly looking at Bosnia 1914 all over again — except this time, it will be with thousands upon thousands of nukes on both sides.

For those interested in the specifics, you can find a straightforward report on the events of the past two weeks after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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28 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

The World’s Most Powerful Women

Forbes Magazine has put out its list of the world’s most powerful women.  As you would expect from Forbes, there’s a strong emphasis business leaders.  Here’s the top ten:

  1. Angela Merkel, Prime Minister of Germany
  2. Sheila Blair, Chairman of the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation)
  3. Indra Nooyi, Chairman and Chief Executive, PepsiCo
  4. Angela Braly, Chief Executive WellPoint U.S.
  5. Cynthia Carroll, Chief Executive, Anglo American U.K.
  6. Irene Rosenfeld, Chairman and Chief Executive, Kraft Foods
  7. Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State
  8. Ho Ching, Chief Executive, Temasek Holdings, Singapore
  9. Anne Lauvergeon, Chief Executive, Areva France
  10. Anne Mulcahy, Chairman and Chief Executive, Xerox

At first I was surprised that I had only heard of three of those in the top ten:  Merkel, Nooyi, and Rice.  But then I saw how Forbes had determined its rankings:

We measure power as a composite of public profile — calculated using press mentions — and financial heft. . . . The economic component of the ranking considers job title and past
career accomplishments, as well as the amount of money a woman
controls. A chief executive gets the revenue of her business, for
example, while a Nobel winner receives her prize money and a U.N.
agency head receives her organization’s budget. We modify the raw
dollar figures to allow comparisons among the different financial
realms so that the corporate revenue that an executive controls, for
instance, is on the same footing as a country’s gross domestic product,
ascribed to prime ministers.

Well, no wonder it’s all business executives.  But what isn’t clear is exactly how both Merkel and Rice, who have little “financial heft” made the top ten, while Hilary Clinton, who Forbes said was the woman with the highest public profile, is only #28, behind the Director of the Centers for Disease Control, for crying out loud.

Another interesting contrast is that of Shelia Blair (#2) and Nancy Pelosi (#35).  Isn’t control over U.S. government’s purse strings greater financial clout than managing the U.S. banking insurance system? And what financial heft does Laura Bush (#44) have?

Their methodology doesn’t make much sense.  But it does make interesting reading.

Other figures of note in the top 100: 

  • Cristina Fernandez, President of Argentina (13);
  • Yulia Tymoshenko, Prime Minister of Ukraine (17)
  • Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress (21);
  • Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile (25);
  • Oprah Winfrey (36)
  • Aung San Suu Kyi (37)
  • Gloria Arroyo, President of the Philippines (41)
  • Tzipi Livni, Israeli foreign minister (52)
  • Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand (56)
  • Queen Elizabeth II (58 — profession listed as “Queen.”  Heh.)
  • Meredith Vieira, co-host “The Today Show,” NBC (61 — higher than Katie.  That’s gotta hurt.)
  • Katie Couric (62)
  • Barbara Walters (63)
  • Diane Sawyer (65)
  • Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia (66)
  • Tarja Halonen, President of Finland (71)
  • Ruth Bader Ginsberg (72)
  • Mary McAleese, President of Ireland (74)
  • Christiane Amanpour, CNN (91)

I’m sorry, but I have a hard time taking seriously any list that thinks that the foreign minister of Greece is more powerful than Angelina Jolie.

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26 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:30 pm

Blogger: “Assertive” Condi Paved Way for Michelle

The usually smart and reliable Blake Hounshell over at Passport, Foreign Policy magazine’s blog, appears to have gone completely insane.  Or he’s got such a bad case of Obama fever, he’s hallucinating.

Today, he credited Condoleezza Rice for paving the way for Michelle Obama’s speech last night:

Watching Michelle, I couldn’t help but think that she might also have given a shout-out to Condoleezza Rice. Isn’t it likely that Americans, accustomed to seeing an assertive African-American woman on TV every night for the past seven years, are more comfortable with Michelle Obama as a result? After Michelle’s speech, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann of MSNBC were marveling at the fact that six years ago, it would have been hard to imagine an African-American family up on the stage as a possible first family. For that, the Obamas may have Rice to thank.

This is one of the dumbest things I’ve read all week.  Does Hounshell not realize just how patronizing it sounds to suggest that Americans needed to see an “assertive African-American woman on TV every night” in order to accept Michelle Obama?

Hounshell might want to brush up on his history.  Just off the top of my head, here’s a list of sixteen women who had more to do with Michelle being up that stage than Condoleeza Rice.  All are, to use his lovely turn of phrase, “assertive African-American women.”

Marian Anderson

Maya Angelou

Shirley Chisholm

Marian Wright Edelman

Fannie Lou Hamer

Dorothy Height

Zora Neale Hurston

Barbara Jordan

Coretta Scott King

Toni Morrison

Diane Nash

Rosa Parks

Wilma Rudolph

Mamie Till

Sojourner Truth

Harriet Tubman

Oprah Winfrey

That took me five minutes.  Hounshell may want to take that much time before making a similar suggestion in the future.

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23 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:16 pm

I Didn’t Know Condi Was into Paul Stanley

Did you know that Condoleezza Rice is a Kiss fan?  And apparently an Obama supporter as well.


This is from the new Obama music fan website:

Here’s the official State Department photo:

Oh no you dint Obama campaign!

This may be the funniest thing I’ve seen in weeks.

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21 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:55 pm

Diplospeak Translator: SOFA (Hot) Potato

So it looks like the on-again off-again Status of Forces Agreement is back on.  The Condi went to Baghdad to try to hammer out the final details, and she and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari appeared at a joint press conference to say that the two governments were close to a deal.  The Associated Press is reporting that American troops will be out of Iraq no later than next June 30, but The Los Angeles Times says they’ll stick around until 2011.

The State Department and White House web sites don’t have anything up on this yet, so we’ll have to see what their official comment is.  In the meantime, let’s use the Diplospeak Translator to compare and contrast what The Condi and Zebari had to say:

THE CONDI:  We have agreed that some goals, some aspirational timetables for how that might unfold, are well worth having in such an agreement. . . . Obviously, the American forces are here, coalition forces are here at the invitation of the Iraqi government. . . . What we’re trying to do is put together an agreement that protects our people, respects Iraq’s sovereignty. . . . [T]he goal is to have Iraqi forces responsible for the security of Iraq. . . . We’re not sitting here talking about an agreement to try to get out of a bad situation.  [The agreement] builds on the success we have had in the last year. This agreement is based on success.”

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  Given Maliki’s repeated statements, we had no choice but to accept a timetable.  And anytime I actually say something is a bad situation, you can bet that it’s a bad situation.

ZEBARI:  This decision (agreement) is a sovereign one and Iran and other neighboring countries have the right to ask for clarifications. . . . There are clear articles (that) say that Iraq will not be used as a launching pad for any aggressive acts against neighboring countries and we already did clarify this. . . . This agreement determines the principle provisions, requirements, to regulate the temporary presence and the time horizon, the mission of the U.S. forces.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

So does that mean that President Bush would rather win an election than lose a war?  That The Condi is a cheese-eating surrender monkey?

Something tells me that John McCain is about change back into Bitter Angry Man again.

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19 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:30 pm

State Department Watch: Fed up with Bush?

In my three years as a political appointee in the Clinton Administration, I often butted heads with foreign service officers over a variety of issues.  Let’s just say that desk officers didn’t necessarily share my Bureau’s belief that human rights should be a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy.  To be fair, they didn’t necessarily disdain such issues, they just thought other things like American economic interests should also be taken into account.

So I’m not completely uncritical of the foreign service.  There’s a lot that could be done to improve it.  But even when I disagreed with FSOs, I always felt that they were worthy of my respect.  Most Americans have no idea that our diplomats often work in harrowing conditions, risking their lives in order to advance American interests and serve their country.

In that context, I wanted to draw attention to a letter that will come out tomorrow from a group of former foreign service officers** known as Foreign Policy Professionals for Obama:

We are a diverse group of over 200 former Foreign Service officers. Each of us has had extensive experience in implementing the international affairs and national security policies of both Republican and Democratic administrations. We have first hand knowledge of the grave multiple challenges of the Cold War, a period of peril but one in which the United States wore with honor the mantle of leadership. In cooperation with other democracies, and dialog with countries that were not, our nation found solutions to problems which seemed intractable. Senator Obama can place our nation again in that position of trust, credibility and respect.

With him, we call for a return to the successful reliance on bipartisan cooperation at home and close coordination on the use of active diplomacy with our friends and allies abroad, to face the challenges posed by those who are neither. We have watched with profound regret the frequent, costly failures of the current administration to apply these fundamental principles.

We, the undersigned, are firmly convinced that new American leadership is critical at this juncture in world history. We urge Americans, regardless of party affiliation, to select as our next president Senator Barack Obama, a leader with courage, intelligence, energy, a fresh perspective and a focus on the future. We believe based on our long foreign policy experience that he has the qualities needed to restore American leadership, credibility and respect in the world, the persona to make bipartisanship a possibility once again, and the judgment and vision to set our nation on the path to a better future.

As far as I know, FSOs are not overwhelmingly Republican or Democratic (if anyone knows differently, please diabuse me).  As public servants, they understand that their job is to implement, not interpret, a given President’s foreign policy.  But if you asked most, they would tell you that they prefer Presidents who build consensus at home and abroad.  That is, after all, the nature of diplomacy.

With that in mind, take a second look at the following sentences:

[W]e call for a return to the successful reliance on bipartisan cooperation at home and close coordination on the use of active diplomacy with our friends and allies abroad, to face the challenges posed by those who are neither. We have watched with profound regret the frequent, costly failures of the current administration to apply these fundamental principles.

In the world of diplomacy, that’s about as close to a smackdown as you’re ever going to see.  To call out a current President for his foreign policy blunders is just not done.  Usually, people who want to do that resign first.

I want to emphasize again that these are former officers, so the analogy isn’t perfect.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if a large majority of current FSOs share the sentiments expressed in this letter.  Just as U.S. troops currently deployed abroad have donated more money to Obama than McCain by a 6:1 margin, I would bet good money that FSOs currently serving overseas have similar giving patterns.

If I’m right, that marks an enormous sea change in less than eight years.  Most folks have forgotten now, but when Colin Powell arrived at the State Department in 2001, he was welcomed as a hero:

When Colin L. Powell took charge in Foggy Bottom last month, the new secretary of state delivered a rousing speech to his staff, promising an ambitious and expensive agenda for modernizing a department that has long complained it is strapped for cash.  The hundreds of employees who were present applauded and cheered.

Madeleine Albright was not a popular figure at State.  Many FSOs viewed her as remote, unsympathetic to their plight, and uninterested in the nuts and bolts of Department management.  A number of security snafus during her time there — which in turn led to some draconian new security measures — didn’t help matters.  (Just to be clear, I served under Albright and did not share all of these concerns.  But then again, I wasn’t a foreign service officer)  So when Powell came on board, he inherited a building ready for and willing to change.

But in the aftermath of September 11 — and particularly after the invasion of Iraq — not much new money came State’s way.  Modernizing diplomacy took a back seat to going to war.  The near-blank check given to DOD didn’t help; neither did the money poured into the new Department of Homeland Security.  But perhaps the greatest problem was that Powell ended up outside the decisionmaking process, frozen out by Cheney, Rumsfeld, and other key decisionmakers.

Few presidencies have ever demonstrated the contempt for the State Department, its employees, and its role that the Bush Administration does.  Only Nixon was worse.  Ironically, since the Eisenhower years, only two Secretaries of State have had a genuinely close working relationship with their President: Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice.

Powell (and Rice, to be fair) did devote some time to management issues, and as a result, the building has become a better place to work.  The Department has solved some of its computer issues; adjusted staffing at key posts to reflect the realities of the post-Cold War era (fewer FSOs in Germany and more in India, for example); and changed some of the outdated guidelines concerning FSO advancement.

But morale continues to sag, in large part because these largely cosmetic reforms cannot paper over Foggy Bottom’s profound unhappiness with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.  And as I have noted elsewhere, the post-Kenya/Tanzania/9-11 security-first mentality has made it far more difficult for FSOs stationed overseas to do their jobs.

The fundamental question, then, is will a President Obama (and his Secretary of State) pay enough attention (and devote the necessary resources) to fixing what ails Foggy Bottom?  Because if he doesn’t, he’s going to find it almost impossible to achieve his ambitious foreign policy goals.

Big honkin’ Tip of the Hat to Gerald Loftus at Avuncular American for pointing me to this story.  If don’t yet read his blog, check it out.

**Full disclosure:  I am not a signatory to the letter, as I’m not a former foreign service officer.  That said, I strongly agree with its sentiments and would be happy to sign it.

| posted in foreign policy, politics | 2 Comments

17 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 am

Diplospeak Translator: The Condi in Crawford

I think The Condi has been spending too much time down on the ranch with Dubya.  Yes, I know she just got back from a whirlwind trip and everything, but sheesh, it’s like she caught a case of the Cold Warrior pneumonia and the malapropism flu.

Yesterday, she spoke to the press after briefing her husband the commander-in-chief.  Time to break out the Diplospeak Translator.  Once again, we bring you only the choicest cuts.

THE CONDI: I think everybody understands that Russia had a choice to make over the last several years, and it was a choice that should have been opened to Russia, which was a choice to act in a 21st-century way, fully integrate into the international institutions. I think it’s very much worthwhile to have given Russia that chance.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: It really stinks that they followed our lead in ignoring international institutions like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.  Didn’t they hear the part where we said, “do as we say, not as we do”?

THE CONDI: Now, I think the behavior recently suggests that perhaps Russia has not taken that route, and either that they have not taken that route or that they would like to have it both ways — that is, that you behave in a 1968 way toward your small neighbors by invading them and, at the same time, you continue to integrate into the political and diplomatic and economic and security structures of the international community. And I think the fact is, you can’t have it both ways.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: As opposed to behaving in a 2003 way, where you invade small countries on the other side of the world while continuing to dismantle the political and diplomatic and economic and security structures of the international community.  There’s a big difference — as soon as I can figure out what it is, I’ll let you know.

THE CONDI: Now, we’ll take our time; we’ll evaluate. But already, the consequences for Russia of its behavior is that it has rallied people to — against them, and many of the small states, which were once captive nations, have rallied to the side of Georgia. That in and of itself is a very different circumstance than we might have faced several decades ago.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: Is the Cold War on again?  Pretty please?  Because I spent half my freaking life studying the Russkies and haven’t been able to contribute anything useful for about twenty years.

THE CONDI: I have to assume for now that the word of the President of Russia to the presidency of the EU is going to be respected.


THE CONDI: The Georgians have very often offered substantial autonomy to these two regions. We have pressed very hard for there to be recognition of minority rights in these regions. So there’s a lot of groundwork that has been laid here, but what has to happen now, when these international discussions intensify over the next period of time after this — after the cease-fire is in place, is that it all has to proceed from where it proceeded from before, which is the territorial integrity of Georgia be respected; that these regions, as the President just said, are within the internationally recognized boundaries of Georgia; and that the Security Council resolutions, which have been passed numerous times, will be respected. And there will have to be a negotiated solution on that basis.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: Please, please, please please don’t mention Kosovo.

REPORTER:  But Russia has said explicitly that they are not prepared to return to the status quo. I mean, how do you get around that?

THE CONDI: Well, then, Russia would be in violation of extant Security Council resolutions.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: You know, just like they said we were doing back in 2003.

REPORTER:  I mean, is there really serious discussion about kicking them out of the G8, or is there really serious discussion about the WTO?

THE CONDI: We’ll take our time and look at further consequences for what Russia has done. But I would just note that there are already consequences. There has been universal concern within the European Union, the United States, et cetera, about the way Russia has done this. I think that you will start to see reports come out about what Russian forces engaged in.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: Look!  Over there!  Human rights violations!  Whew!  I wasn’t sure that old trick still worked given everything we’ve done in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

THE CONDI: The — already you have the states that are — were former captive nations, like Poland, the Baltic states, even states like Ukraine speaking out against this kind of behavior.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: I knew if we kept banging that old captive nations drum, it would become useful again.  And what a perfect regurgitation of Cold War rhetoric!  Ah, I feel complete again.

THE CONDI: [I]t’s not just talk, it is about Russia’s standing in the international community. I want to go back to the point. In 1968, when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, it occupied the capital, overthrew the government, and paid no consequence. And one reason it paid no consequence is that the Soviet Union actually didn’t care about its status in the international system. It didn’t want to be member of the WTO; it didn’t want to be in the OECD; it didn’t want to be seen as a responsible player in international politics.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: In 2003, when we invaded Iraq, occupied the capital, and overthrew the government, we had no idea we would still paying for it more than five years later.  And nothing annoys us more than seeing someone else get away with something we tried to do ourselves.

| posted in foreign policy, politics, war & rumors of war, world at home | 0 Comments

26 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:00 pm

Does Jimmy Choo Make Golf Shoes?

Apparently The Condi has something other than golf she is looking forward to pursuing:

When Condoleezza Rice’s term in office ends, she is looking forward to “getting back to shopping”, she says.  The US secretary of state told girls at a school in Perth, Australia, that she used to “hit the stores” with her mother on Sunday mornings after church.  “It’s a great pastime, shopping. I love it, even if I don’t buy anything. I just love going to the stores to look.”

Kinda brings a new meaning to the term “golf spikes.”

The sooner you can get to the mall and the links, the happier we’ll all be, Madam Secretary.  But do you think you could spend at least a small part of your remaining time in office doing something other than just dreaming about retirement?

Image courtesy of the Jimmy Choo Autumn/Winter ‘08 collection.

| posted in foreign policy, pop culture | 0 Comments

24 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:56 am

How to Become a Good Delegator

I don’t really have a joke here.  I just found this interesting.  Bush announced “the designation of a Presidential Delegation to the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games.”

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, will lead the delegation.

The Honorable Elaine L. Chao, Secretary of Labor
The Honorable Michael O. Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services
The Honorable Clark T. Randt, Jr, U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China
The Honorable Karen Hughes, Global Vice Chair of Burson-Marsteller
Mr. Peter Ueberroth, President of the United States Olympic Committee
Ms. Michelle Kwan, Figure Skating Champion and American Public Diplomacy Envoy

So Karen Hughes gets to go, but not James K. Glassman, her successor as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy.  No Democrats.  And no Members of Congress.  Wouldn’t want those pesky Members of Congress around to ask questions about Tibet or the Falun Gong or dissidents, now, would we?

So this got me thinking.  What if the President had the guts to name a different kind of delegation, one that would raise human rights issues with the Chinese?  Would would be on it?  Here are my suggestions — I’ve tried to make it bipartisan: Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, pop culture | 2 Comments

24 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:56 am

Diplospeak Translator: Licensed to (Kim Jong) Il

Okay boys and girls, time for the Diplospeak Translator!  Today, we’re featuring remarks by The Condi during her press availability yesterday.

These took place after the “Informal Six-Party Ministerial,” which is apparently what we call meetings with Axis of Evil member new strategic partner North Korea.  Because if they were formal, The Condi would have to get a dress and a corsage and everything, and Kim Jong Il would show up in one of those really hideous powder-blue polyester tuxes from the 1970s.  And nobody wants that.

So here’s what she had to say:

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

23 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:42 pm

Dr. and Mrs. Horrible (Apologies to Josh Whedon)

So I was going to blog on The Condi’s appearance at the ASEAN Post-Ministerial meeting (whatever that is).  I wrote a nice little post about this being the beginning of her farewell tour.

Then I searched on Creative Commons for a photo of her and found this:

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, pop culture | 0 Comments

22 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:00 am

Wonk’d: The ALDAC “Controversy”

Time to introduce another periodic feature here at Undip:  Wonk’d, an attempt to explain some of the more arcane inner workings of our government’s foreign policy infrastructure.  Think of it as a complement to our Diplospeak Translator:  whereas the DT converts convoluted diplomatic language into plain English, Wonk’d demystifies the arcane rules, procedures, and traditions that often govern the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.

Let’s start with what are known as ALDACs.  The word “ALDAC” is an acronym for “All Diplomatic and Consular Posts.”  They are cables sent by the Department of State to every U.S. Government outpost around the world.  (By the way, “cable” is a euphemism these days.  Everything is sent electronically via an encrypted, tightly controlled channel used exclusively for that purpose.  Think of it as a special type of email.)

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, politics | 0 Comments

21 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:18 pm

The Bush Administration’s Harry Mudd Moment

The Star Trek character, not the California college.

George Bush has long been on the record as hating opposing the International Criminal Court and its evil plan to feed American babies to wolves. Shortly after taking office, Bush announced that he was “unsigning” the treaty, an event that troglyoconservative John Bolton called “the happiest moment of my government service.”

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in none of the above | 0 Comments

21 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:00 am

Diplospeak Translator: The Condi and Iraq

Time to roll out a new feature here at Undiplomatic:  the diplospeak translator.  The idea is to take statements by U.S. government officials and convert them into plain English.  Allow me to provide an example:

DIPLOMAT:  We had a free and frank discussion.

TRANSLATOR:  The meeting involved a lot of screaming.  Toward the end we started throwing chairs at one another.

Our first subject:  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, affectionately known around here as The Condi.

With Maliki-palooza breaking out this weekend, nobody seemed to notice that The Condi took time out from her busy golfing schedule Saturday to talk to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about her short game Iran and Iraq, among other issues.

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, media, war & rumors of war | 1 Comment

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